Mobile-phone cameras are better this year than last, and next year they’ll be better again. The notion of carrying around a heavy chunk of metal and glass called “a camera” is becoming difficult to defend and this makes me sad, because I like cameras. Using the big fat Samyang 135mm F2 is giving me strong opinions about what a camera has to be to become the anti-phone, the one you’ll take along even though there’s a good camera on your phone.
This piece contains 7½ pictures, 1½ of which could have been captured with a mobile camera, and one of which was. You might want to scroll down and see if the distinctions are obvious to your eye.
What happened was, entertaining visiting relations, we went to Steveston, BC; an excellent place for a walk. As has become a habit, I kept the Samyang on the Fuji, shooting only with it and with the phone. Recently I wrote that the intersection between the photos my phone is good at and the ones where the big Samyang shines is basically zilch.
And that’s the point; the big 135mm F2 is all the things that the builders of next year’s mobiles probably can’t build. It can shoot things that are really a long way away. It can isolate subject from background, absolutely and effortlessly. And it can resolve details maybe finer than your camera sensor can.
OK, here are the pix. First, Mount Baker looms over a distant — really a long way away — part of the Steveston docks.
Some of the old marine infrastructure, now picturesquely abandoned.
Here’s one of the old warehouses; a lot of them are used now for art projects of one kind or another. Resolving that row of gulls at that distance is a neat trick.
Here are a couple of bark closeups; every tree’s skin has stories to tell.
Here’s some marine infrastructure that’s still in use. It was way across this little inlet from me. Can you see where the ladder meets the water?
Speaking of things that are long way away, my Kiwi relative who has shipping-industry connections tells me that this is a car freighter.
I don’t often do this sort of thing, but let’s have a closer look at that ship’s bridge; the half-picture I mentioned above. I think the lens has more resolution than the X-T1’s sensor. I could zoom in closer but I’m not sure the captain had put her pants entirely on before opening the cabin curtains.
Which is which? · The shot of the stumps in the water is the Pixel 2. The second shot of the bark could have been taken with the phone — the background more present than one would like — because for some reason I didn’t have the lens wide open.
What’s the experience like? · I’ll be honest, shooting with the Samyang is a lot of work. It’s heavier than the camera, and once it’s mounted, I can’t squeeze any other lenses into my (admittedly small) camera bag.
When you open it up wide (and why would you use a lens like this if you weren’t going to) it’s hideously difficult to focus; It took me a lot of tries to get these. It’s a manual, but I’ve never tried autofocus on a hair-trigger device like this, I have no idea how it’d work.
Finally, there are a lot of pictures it just can’t take. At 135mm (turns out to be 149 on the Fuji mount) it has to be pretty far away or pretty tiny. Which is OK, you can whip your phone out of your pocket for things that are big and nearby. I guess?
What does the camera of the future look like? · Where by “camera” I mean something that you’ll take the trouble to pack up and take along, and the time to unload and aim and compose and focus, even though you have a perfectly good cam on your mobile.
It needs to have a pretty long focal length and a pretty wide aperture, that’s what. Which means, barring significant new optical science, it needs to be big and probably heavy. Well, the lens part anyhow.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Ivan Sagalaev (Feb 11 2018, at 23:35)
What I'd really like in cameras (in my Fuji X-E2 anyway) is a more straightforward process of having RAWs from the camera in my computer. Messing with SD cards or, god forbid, wires is too 00s. And doing it over the Internet at 30+MB a picture is going to be too slow. So something like always-on in-camera wifi and a software on the laptop to sniff the camera nearby and automatically sync data locally… But that's not going to happen :-(
From: Jarek (Feb 12 2018, at 00:59)
After five years, my complaint about using a phone as a camera is still ergonomics. Doing any sort of manipulation is really difficult. In places that get colder than California, holding a thin glass-and-metal slab can be a challenge in the winter - especially if one wants to swipe fingers across the slab at the same time.
There's grippy phone cases, but at that point you're buying accessories to try to make a $700+ camera halfway ergonomic.
From: FSM (Feb 28 2018, at 14:33)
Actually, Ivan there have been cameras with WiFi and Bluetooth for some time. I'm not familiar with the current implementation but I imagine some can be set up to automatically push images e.g. via email while others would act as a server, say a WebDav server if a manufacturer wants to use a standards based solution. A small battery powered doodad that connected via PTP/USB to provide this functionality on cameras without networking out to be possible too.